Southern Hills sued for religious discrimination

Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 1:57am

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a suit alleging that Southern Hills Medical Center of Nashville unlawfully discriminated against an Islamic employee.

Wali Telwar, a former medical technician at Southern Hills, was allegedly told by the hospital that he would need to resign if he wanted to make a pilgrimage required by his faith, rather than use the vacation time he had accumulated.

Telwar resigned and completed the two-week pilgrimage, but when he applied to regain his job, the hospital did not hire him — even though three other medical technicians were hired while the application was active, according to the EEOC suit.

Southern Hills, which is owned by HCA TriStar Health System, said in a Wednesday statement that the hospital has not been served with a lawsuit. The statement indicates, however, that all charges will be denied.

“We did not discriminate against Mr. Telwar,” the statement reads. “We intend to defend our position vigorously.”

According to the suit, Telwar worked at Southern Hills from March of 2003 until December of 2005, when he resigned to complete the pilgrimage. He requested the time off, in writing, on Nov. 3, 2005, and proposed to use accumulated paid time off to be absent from work Dec. 7 through Jan. 17, the EEOC claims.

“One of the Five Pillars of Islam is a once-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, called a Hajj, which is required of all believers,” the suit reads. “Rather than granting Telwar’s request to be off to make the Hajj required by Islam, Defendant told Telwar that if he insisted on going to Mecca, he would have to resign his position… Defendant told Telwar he could reapply for his position after he returned from his trip.”

The suit states Telwar returned from the Hajj on Jan. 17 and reapplied, but was not rehired. The EEOC claims that it attempted to reach a settlement with Southern Hills. The suit was filed Sept. 28 in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee.

The lawsuit asks the court to, among other things, grant a permanent injunction enjoining Southern Hills Medical Center from engaging in any discriminatory practices on the basis of religion, and to grant back wages, compensatory and punitive damages.

Nashville-based Sally Ramsey, senior trial attorney for the EEOC, said there’s a difference between an employer denying time off and penalizing a worker for his or her religious beliefs.

“No one’s coming to us just because they want time off,” Ramsey said. “We’re alleging that’s a sincerely held religious belief.”

The suit is part of what Vanderbilt law professor Robert Belton, who specializes in labor and employment law, calls a national “uptick” in employment discrimination suits related to the Islamic faith. The trend started immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans became “more sensitive” to treatment of individuals of Islamic faith.

In Middle Tennessee, Whirlpool Corp. of LaVergne and Dell Computer’s Nashville plant have both been involved in public disputes related to accommodations for Muslim employees.

Nationwide, in cases related to all religions, the EEOC has ramped its efforts up from charging and resolving 1,811 case receipts in 1999 to 2,541 in 2006, according to commission statistics.

Belton said cases related to Islam don’t necessarily make up a clear majority of the increase. He’s seen filings, he said, related to Judaism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islam, Rastafarianism, Roman Catholicism, and others.

Beverly Watts, executive director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, said it’s common for EEOC filings to be followed by an increase in discrimination-related complaints. The commission receives and processes complaints related to discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing.

“It becomes public knowledge. It creates awareness. People say, ‘Oh, that happened to me,’” Watts said.

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By: HokeyPokey on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Here's where I'm placing my bet: This article will be the big crank-attracter of the day.

By: Fundit on 12/31/69 at 7:00

IMO, this is not discrimination, it's just reality. Lots of people would like to take off work for six weeks and still have a job when they return. Only those who serve in the military are guaranteed this right.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Hockey, there you go again. Calling yourself names. Bless your pointy little head.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 7:00

#1, what influenced Wali Telwar to expect that he, unlike every other American need not use his accumulated vacation time for his personal vacation? The last time I investigated HCA is a business that is not owned or affiliated with any religion. #2, this is more evidence that our Tort system must be changed so that “Loser Pays” to stop the bullying.

By: CAH on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Southern Hills guaranteed Mr. Telwar he could earn paid vacation time. He earned it. If he wishes to use that time he can use it to do anything he wants to do. I've known people who used vacation time to serve jail time or be in court for divorce proceedings. Scheduling should not have been a problem if he gave advanced notice. Telwar's only mistake was telling people what he was going to do before he did it and that shouldn't have been a mistake. I believe he has a case.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

CAH He didn't have senority to take Christmas,Dec and new years off which is the hardest to staff for a hospital.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 7:00

It is nice that he could accumulate that much vacation time but I don't think any employer in the private sector wants or expects that employee to take that much time off at once. Many employers have an annual 'use-it-or-lose-it' policy for that reason. The one exception I know of is maternity leave, which is guaranteed by law.Is there a length of time to stay or walk from some point to Mecca required? Surely a mere visit could have been accomplished in less time than 5 weeks but I am ignorant of any aspects or rituals of the pilgrimage that would require that much time. If his beliefs allowed him to complete the pilgrimage in a week or two he has no case as they would likely have allowed that.

By: 5263 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

When in America do as Americans do for requested time off work - TAKE YOUR VACATION TIME!!! If you don't like the American way - go back to where you came from!

By: Kosh III on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The employer has a right to limit how much time can be taken at any one time. There have been times when my department has been told that due to excessive work loads, no one will be allowed to take off at that particular time.Plus, as others have noted, how did he accumulate so much time so fast and why does it take 5 weeks to make a trip which would be maybe 18 hours flight (allowing for layovers) one way---at most. Plus a few days in Mecca. He could have done it in under two weeks.

By: wgpugh on 12/31/69 at 7:00

He has no case, but that doesn't mean he will not win. The justice system is so upside down and the "don't offend" doctrines take precedent. It's another example of how Islam intends to push itself on the Nation.

By: NYcal on 12/31/69 at 7:00

You can only go to hajj by purchasing a hajj package from an authorized hajj agent. They require a minimum of 3 weeks and recommend 4 weeks. The actual hajj rites in Makkah take a minimum of 7 days add in a week for Madinah and travel time and you're looking at 3 weeks. They probably schedule for 4 weeks because of scheduling conflicts & flight arrangement. They are trying to get in and out 2 million pilgrims. That's can't be an easy task. Also, I'm pretty sure that Shi'a pilgrims spend time visiting other sites. Check out wikipedia for more info. Is it his fault that everyone wants off for Christmas and New Years? Yes, there are a good number of practicing Christians in this country and they are the majority. This is the land of the free, no? 5263, why the heck are you yelling? The "American Way" does not mean exclude the Muslims, wake up and smell the coffee! That's the beauty of this country. The founding fathers were genius, they didn't exclude any one group. Although, wait, Franklin, did want to keep the Jews out : "If you do not exclude them from these United States,in their Constitution, in less than 200 years they will have swarmed here in such great numbers that they will dominate and devour the land and change our form of government, for which we Americanshave shed our blood, given our lives our substance and jeopardized our liberty."If you do not exclude them, in less than 200 years our descendants will be working in the fields to furnish them substance, while they will be in the counting houses rubbing their hands. I warn you, gentlemen, if you do not exclude Jews for all time, your children will curse you in your graves."-Benjamin Franklin, 1787,at The Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as recorded by Charles Coteworth PinckneyDelegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. That wasn't very nice of Benji. It's not nice to say things like that about people especially our good friends the Jews.Ok, back to business. The fact of the matter is that his boss was a jerk. Being American doesn't mean that your religion should be money. If you say something abide by your word. If you can't be a man of your word than how are you a man at all? And if we have a nation of people that decide to live life that way, than what kind of a nation are we?